Every May is Global Employee Health and Wellness Month, an opportunity to raise awareness about workers’ rights and workplace well-being. Especially in our globalized world, many industries are ever more fast-paced. There is heavy demand for workers’ time and talent. And with rising costs of living and continuing public health concerns, stress levels are at a historic high. People are working harder for longer hours — and it’s not good for their health or productivity.

About 3 in 5 American workers are experiencing health effects from job-related stress. This can eventually lead to burnout, a debilitating condition that hurts both employees and employers. What can be done?

To overcome illness, we must nurture wellness. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, which is why workplace wellness is an excellent investment. Read on to learn how employee wellness programs can promote better productivity from happier, healthier people.

What is burnout?

Burnout is a type of stress disorder that creates feelings of despair, exhaustion, and apathy. It develops when someone’s daily stress becomes so exhausting that they can no longer engage with their normal tasks. This chronic stress and worry give way to depression and detachment.

Because people’s work is often one of their main stressors, burnout usually happens among employees who don’t — or can’t — take time to recover. Chronic stress means chronically high cortisol levels, which can damage organs and tissues. Burnout is the brain’s way of protecting itself and the body. It disengages from the source of anxiety, and then creates a buffer against more stress.

Burnout makes even the most passionate, dedicated employees feel unmotivated and disengaged. This can further contribute to their feelings of depression and unworthiness. Once someone gets to this point, their brain has rewired itself to defend against any further stress. It’s also possible that the body simply can’t figure out how to turn off its stress response system.

So, while daily stress is manageable, burnout is a major change in how one approaches life. It can be very difficult to recover, even if the person wants to feel better. That’s why it’s critical to maintain balance and minimize stress before burnout develops.

Burnout is a problem for both workers and employers. A Gallup study found that burnout cost companies $322 billion in turnover and lost productivity. Because burnout is more common among high performers, so it’s often the most valuable workers who end up leaving the team.

To avoid this happening, companies should invest in their employees’ well-being. Workers who can manage their stress and feel fulfilled at work are less likely to develop burnout.

How does burnout harm productivity?

As mentioned, burnout is more than severe or chronic stress. The brain wants to protect the body from stress’ negative effects. The person experiencing burnout finds it hard to stay motivated or engaged with anything — especially their work. Obviously, this impairs their productivity.

Even if someone’s able to perform their tasks, burnout can impair their focus and memory. Over time, the continued stress will further impede their work. This has ripple effects on their team members, too.

Replacing the worker is rarely the solution. For one thing, burnout usually affects high achievers, who aren’t so easily replaced. Burnout is a complex condition, and the workplace itself can be a contributing factor — especially if there’s high turnover due to burnout.

Here’s how to make your workplace part of the solution rather than the problem.

How can employers promote workplace wellness and prevent burnout?

Every job involves stress — that’s unavoidable. However, there are many ways to help employees manage their stress and build resilience. But that’s merely the baseline. Ideally, workers also feel fulfilled and engaged at work. As the saying goes, one cannot pour from an empty glass. Enriching activities can boost employees’ moods and relieve stress before it becomes burnout.

This approach to employee wellness involves building a good culture: one that keeps people engaged, perhaps even entertained, when they’re not performing their tasks.

  • Team-building games and other activities
  • On-site fitness and movement classes

Whether your workplace is more manual-labor or brainpower, give your team a chance to relax their skillsets. For example:

  • Employees at a highly physical worksite might enjoy a gentle yoga class.
  • Computer-based workers can reduce repetitive-movement strain and boost their heart rate with some dance fitness.
  • The fast-paced sales team could benefit from a quiet meditation or crafts session.

Non-task physical activity and mental relaxation provide balance, allowing the breathing room one needs to recover. Think of it this way: regular opportunities to recharge are much more sustainable — and affordable — than the amount of recovery time needed once burnout hits.

Ways to address employees’ health concerns

A health-driven, rich corporate culture is only the beginning. While those can help reduce stress and boost engagement, it’s also important to help employees stay healthy. When people have a sense of wellness, they’re more resilient against burnout — and often more productive, too.

First, consider how your workplace can help employees deal with threats to their mental health.

Stress management classes give people valuable tools to protect themselves. Consider bringing in an expert to share deep-breathing and mindfulness techniques as well as other stress relief exercises. They can also help employees identify anxious thought patterns such as catastrophizing.

And don’t forget mental health support. Psychological and physiological wellness go hand-in-hand. Some employee wellness programs include a counselor to help workers deal with life’s challenges. These mental health professionals offer compassionate, confidential support, even if the employee’s concern doesn’t relate to their job. The idea is that when people experience overall wellness, they do well in all aspects of their life — which is better for business, too.

How can businesses promote employee health?

Finally, see how you can promote healthy lifestyles among your workers.

Opportunities for physical exercise encourage workers to maintain cardiovascular fitness. It’s usually not enough to offer free gym passes. Instead, find ways to get your team invested in their fitness. Step challenges tap into people’s competitive and goal-oriented nature. Make walking part of your culture, whether that’s by creating a garden path for work breaks or conducting “walking meetings.”

Fitness-based workplace programs encourage people to stay active and take a breather. This helps reduce stress, boost their mood, and nurture their sense of achievement. All these benefits make employees more resilient against burnout. Plus, they’re a great way to promote cardiovascular health!

Fuel these active-lifestyle programs with healthy snacks in the breakroom. Check your overall food culture, too. Pizza parties may be traditional, but your employees might prefer more nutritious options.

Most importantly, celebrate your team’s successes. Share their achievements in step challenges and healthy eating goals. Honor people for trying new forms of fitness — and applaud them for protecting their mental health.

Want to bring an employee wellness program to your worksite? The Active Marion Project can connect you with educators specializing in everything from yoga to smoking cessation! Reach out today to get started.